The DJ’s Other Jobs by Stu Chisholm

July 15, 2012 by Stu Chisholm

As entertainers, we tend to wear a lot of hats. We’re DJs, on-site coordinators and event planners, emcees, event directors… the list goes on. These are the titles we claim willingly as our duties and in our advertising. Yet there are several other jobs a DJ takes on whether we or our customers know it or not, due to the nature of the entertainment beast.

Before we even arrive at the venue, we take on the role of moving company. Moving our gear is no different than shipping cargo or moving furniture. Knowing that more DJ gear is damaged in transit than any other way, a savvy entertainer will borrow the methods and techniques used by professional movers and trucking companies.

First and foremost, we’ll be sure to properly mount our equipment in professional road cases. This is how bands, from Aerosmith on down to the guys who are playing the bar down the street this weekend protect their valuable equipment.

Next, we use what is known as “truck packing,” which is basically keeping everything as low to the deck
of your van, truck or trailer as possible, so there’s no possibility of falling, and then butting cases tightly together so they cannot slide around or otherwise move. Liberal use of moving blankets, bungee cords, tie-downs and cargo control straps are all things we borrow from the professional movers—because they work!

Driving your gear around is only half of the transportation picture. The other half is moving your gear from vehicle to venue. My goal is always to baby my gear as well as my back. That means that wheels are our friends! Specifically, pneumatic (air-filled) wheels. I use a vertical hand truck to move things like speakers. A must-have tool for professional movers, mine is made of a lightweight composite material and has “stairclimbers” on the back, making a trip up a stairway less traumatic. Additionally, I
use the Rock-N-Roller TM cart with four pneumatic wheels allowing me to take large loads and not sweat those little bumps or even small steps that would give other carts (and DJs) a problem. Pneumatic wheels also mean that gear suffers less jostling as we navigate those bumps, pits and obstacles between vehicle and stage.

One of the most overlooked, yet most important jobs of the DJ is to be on top of any and all electrical problems and situations he/ she may encounter. After all, without power, a DJ is just another body in the room.143-3737

For most of us, our electrical duties begin once we’ve brought in our gear and start looking for a place to plug everything in. Locating the correct number of circuits, which is different than finding outlets, depends on our power demands. If you’re running a single set of powered speakers or an amp that provides less than 2,000 watts, then a single outlet for audio should suffice. For those DJs doing bigger shows, however, a little math might indicate another circuit or two is required. To find out, you must add-up the nominal power draw of whatever it is you’ll be plugging into that circuit using the age old formula:

Watts = Amps x Volts

Amps = Watts ÷ Volts

Volts = Watts ÷ Amps

A typical 2-amp circuit provides a maximum of 2400 volts. The ad for your power amp might’ve boasted “5,000 watts!” yet its actual draw is typically much less. You need to know exactly what the power draw is for all of your equipment and then make sure you do not exceed the capacity of the circuit you’ll be using.

This is especially important for lighting. Power-sipping LED lights allow us to set up a whole lot more lighting with the same amount of available power, but we still need to add up the draw of all of the lights and supply power accordingly. I like to keep sound and lighting on separate circuits, too, so that any noisy switches or relays that are used in entertainment lighting do not make noise on the PA side. Recommended tools for the “DJ electrician” include a circuit locator, outlet ground tester and multi-meter.

This week, the job of “service technician” was my primary focus. If, like me, you have a commercial trailer, cargo van or cube truck, then you know that it takes a lot more time, money and effort to maintain it, comply with regulations and assure your ability to get you and your gear delivered reliably, on time, to each and every gig. I had to get my annual USDOT inspection and, while I was at it, have all the “small stuff” attended to that had cropped up over the past year. (That meant a new exhaust system, starter rebuild and radiator hoses.) Along with transportation, our commercial quality gear must be constantly cleaned and upgraded when necessary.

One of the jobs that didn’t exist in the pre-computer DJ system days is the constant preparation
of our music libraries. In days gone by, a DJ could cruise by the record store on the way to a gig to grab the latest hit. Now, it must be downloaded, shunted to our main and back-up hard drives and then whatever management software our programs or devices require must be run. All of this “under the hood” stuff is not optional and often hard work! It’s also a part of DJ life that our clients are seldom aware of.

Another thing DJs never did in the ‘80s and ‘90s: spending large amounts of time maintaining and servicing their lights. With the advent of uplighting, DJs have inherited one more duty to perform: cleaning party “gack” off of fixtures. The mind sometimes boggles at the amount of drinks that are spilled, food that is dropped and other un-identifiable (and perhaps gladly so) items that find their way in, on, or stuck to our fixtures and DMX cables. For those DJs lucky enough to have wireless DMX and battery-powered fixtures, they not only get to clean them, but make sure they’re all recharged for the next event and, over time, test and replace aging batteries.

While all of the above are simple, if inconvenient tasks, they all add-up time-wise. If you’re also running a photo booth, performing ceremonies as an officiant and providing other additional upsells, then you’re spending large amounts of time on things that DJs of the past never even thought of! The result is that you are much more than “just a DJ,” and we can take a fair amount of pride in the fact that doing more makes our events light-years ahead of those of the past. Wear those other hats with pride. Learn all of the facets of each job, make them habitual, and not only your business, but our industry will be all the better for your effort!

Until next time, safe spinnin’!

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


Filed Under: Business, Events, Issue #143, Lighting, Sound